This article will take you on a journey through the history of chocolate and will reveal the mystery surrounding this food which is a staple of most peoples diets nowadays. It will reveal how this food is part of our life and how it has impacted on civilizations around the world both socially, economically and spiritually.
When looking at the history of chocolate we need to start during the times of the Mayan Indians and Olmec Civilizations found in Central America. The word cacao was part of the Olmec language almost 3,000 years ago and because the climate in this region was hot and humid but shady because of the tropical rain forests, cacao was able to grow there perfectly. The Mayan Indians believed that the cacao tree was owned by the gods and the pods produced by the tree were a present from these gods to us (man), and because of this the pod became a symbol of fertility and life in their society.
However, by the 18th Century, a botanist from Sweden called Linnaeus began calling the cacao tree Theobroma Cacao (which translates into Drink of the Gods). The Mayan were actually make a drink from the pods of the tree and this was often considered to be a royal brew and was only really enjoyed by Kings and Noblemen and by those taking part in sacred rituals. Sometimes they would include chili peppers for added flavour and other times they were add maize to it to change the texture (thicken it).
But before this in 1502, Christopher Columbus whilst on his last voyage to the Caribbean was offered a sack of the cacao seeds in lieu of payment by the Aztecs, and because he was unsure of the value of the seeds the Aztecs made a drink from it to show him its value. The Aztecs believed that the drink was a source of energy, increased their spiritual wisdom and also believed it made them more sexually powerful. They would use it increase the stamina of their warriors prior to a battle. However, it seemed that Christopher Columbus was not actually enamored by this drink, but he accepted the seeds as payment as he was curious as to its value when he returned to Spain.
Yet several years later when Cortes arrived in the New World he also noticed that the Aztecs were still using the cacao beans as the currency and would keep huge stores full of the seeds. In fact when Cortes arrived the current Aztec king Montezuma offered him a cacao plantation and a royal welcome because he thought that Cortes was the reincarnation of one of the former gods and kings. Unfortunately this lead to the downfall of the Aztec empire but was helpful to Cortes in making him see what potential this product had and he then established cacao plantations throughout the Caribbean.
After both Columbus and Cortes had returned to Spain the bitter cacao drink favoured by the Aztec culture was then introduced across Europe and people began to sweeten it so it suited European taste buds better. Unfortunately at this time it was only the elite and wealthy people who could afford to drink it and within 10 years of it arriving in Europe it was being enjoyed in all the Courts in France by their aristocracy. By the middle of the 17th Century chocolate had begun to appear in England and unfortunately because say a high tax was placed on it which continued to provide it with a reputation as a luxury item which could only be enjoyed by those who were privileged enough to afford it.
Up until 1828 cacao was only primarily made for drinking and it was prepared by grinding the beans into a thin paste and then adding spices and sweetener to them and another product which would soak up the cocoa butter which floated on the surface of the drink.
Then a Dutch chemist called Coenraad J Van Houten invented a press which was able to release the cocoa butter from the beans and leaving a dry cake of the beans which could then be ground up into a powder, very similar to the fat free cocoa power that many people around the world enjoy today.
It was only twenty years later that companies in Europe were using his press to start producing the first chocolate for eating. They found that by taking what was left after they had separated the powder and cocoa butter they could melt the butter and blend it with the ground cacao beans and sugar. They would then mix this into a past and mould it, thus producing edible chocolate. Chocolate only began appearing on the market in the USA around the turn of the 20th Century and now almost 100 years later people are still enjoying it unique and rich taste.
Allison Thompson a work from home mum living in Spain who has set up this site dedicated to all things relating to chocolate, both the good and the bad. If you would like to know more then please visit http://www.chocolate.whatshewants.info.
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